By Natalia Gurevich, SWHR Communications Intern
It often goes unnoticed by the women affected, is dismissed as just a painful period, and can take up to 10 years to be diagnosed . In the US, as many as 11 percent of women of childbearing age have endometriosis, but the number is likely even higher . Worldwide, this disorder affects up to 176 million women .
Endometriosis is named after endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus or womb . Endometriosis occurs when this tissue grows outside the uterus on other areas of the body, like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the pelvis, where it shouldn’t normally be . Endometrial tissue very rarely may spread beyond pelvic organs, but it can happen in other areas, like the bladder, bowel, intestines, appendix, or rectum [1,3].
The number one symptom of endometriosis is pain. Many women have painful menstrual cramps, which can worsen if left untreated . Some women also experience chronic pain in the lower back and pelvis, severe discomfort during and after sexual intercourse, and digestive and intestinal pain [1,2]. Other symptoms are bleeding and spotting in between periods, and fatigue. In some cases endometriosis causes infertility [2,4]. It is estimated that between 30-40 percent of women with endometriosis are subfertile  (any form of reduced fertility with prolonged time of unwanted non-conception) .
Endometriosis can occur in women at any point in their childbearing years, but it is most common in women ages 30 to 40 . Women are more likely to suffer from endometriosis if they have not had children, if their periods are unusually long or menstrual cycles are unusually short, and if a family member has the condition .
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there several treatments available . For women who are not trying to get pregnant and have less severe symptoms, there are hormonal birth control methods like the pill, shot, or the IUD (not copper) . These methods are only effective in alleviating symptoms, and symptoms will return if the treatment ends.
For women who are trying for pregnancy, other hormone solutions are available, like Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists. Gn-RH agonists and antagonists are modified versions of a hormone which helps control the menstrual cycle . Conservative surgery is another option, which removes as much endometriosis as possible while preserving the uterus and ovaries . Surgery is recommended more if the case is particularly severe, but regardless of treatment, there is always a chance the endometriosis will return .
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is dedicated to education and awareness on all women’s health issues. If you experience one or more of the symptoms of endometriosis, contact your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options. For more information about endometriosis, visit here.
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The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.